A ‘very scary moment’ — City Council member recalls her abortion at 19
“It was really hard for me as a very young person to figure out where to go ... or what was the guidance that I needed,” Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez said Wednesday, as she and others touted a proposed ordinance to strengthen abortion protections and support in Chicago.
When Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) was 19 and living in Puerto Rico, she had an abortion. She described it as a “very scary moment,” one she remembers “very vividly” — even though abortion was legal there.
“It was really hard for me as a very young person to figure out where to go or how to get money or what was the guidance that I needed. That is not something that is widely accessible,” Rodriguez Sanchez said.
“Thinking ... about the possibility of making that even harder, making that impossible for somebody to be able to access that kind of care — when you know your ... ability to be able to provide for yourself, to have a healthy life is at stake and knowing that you might not be able to do that — that is one of the scariest thoughts I can imagine ever having.”
On Wednesday, Rodriguez Sanchez trumpeted her efforts to ensure the landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade does not usher in an era of danger, investigation and fear for young women from outside Illinois seeking abortions and “gender-affirming care” in Chicago.
She joined her Progressive Caucus colleagues and abortion and gender equality advocates in urging the Chicago City Council to approve the so-called Bodily Autonomy Sanctuary Ordinance.
Rodriguez Sanchez, now 43, described the ordinance as a work in progress that will be amended as surrounding states enact restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming care.
For now, it would prohibit local law enforcement from collaborating to “criminalize” either those people who come to Chicago seeking medical care or the people who assist them in any way.
Modeled after the Welcoming City protection for undocumented residents, the ordinance would expand Chicago’s 311 non-emergency line to provide information and resources for people seeking access to abortion and gender-affirming care.
A companion ordinance would earmark at least $1 million from Chicago’s 2023 budget for reproductive care and clinic defense. That’s patterned after the $1.3 million legal defense fund created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to assist immigrants threatened with deportation after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.
A lot more than $1 million is likely to be needed, considering the avalanche of calls to the Chicago Abortion Fund since June 24, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Board member Chitra Panjabi said the phone has literally been “ringing off the hook,” exacerbating a surge that’s been building for years.
In 2018, the Chicago Abortion Fund supported “less than 200 people” with everything from funding for abortions at 55 clinics in seven Midwest states, to covering the cost of food, gas, housing and child care.
That rose to “just over 800” people assisted in 2019, then about 1,600 in 2020 and nearly 3,000 last year, due to “restrictions and bans as well as the strain of the ongoing global pandemic and an economic crisis,” Panjabi said.
“In these first seven months of 2022, we have already supported 3,600 people. Since the decision last month alone, we have supported 600 people. And the numbers are simply growing. The significant increase in call volume puts us on track to support the most people ever in our organization’s history,” Panjabi said.
Because the fund provides one-on-one support and has “no eligibility requirements or means testing,” Panjabi said the ordinance could not come at a more critical time.
“As more people come to Illinois seeking the abortion care they need — that they have unjustly been denied access to in their own home communities — we can show them that the city of Chicago is not only welcoming to all who travel here for abortion care and gender-affirming care, but also that we are working to keep them safe as they exercise their right to bodily autonomy,” Panjabi said.
“Our work includes a commitment to not let arbitrary state lines impose borders or [let] the threat of criminalization keep our neighbors from accessing the care they want and need despite efforts by right-wing lawmakers to make this a reality.”
Amy Whitaker, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood, said many out-of-state patients are “confused and worried” about what might happen when they return home.
“Just last week, I spoke to a patient from Texas who was genuinely concerned that, if she needed follow-up care back in her home state, that she would face prosecution or jail time,” Whitaker said.
“She was even so concerned that, when we discussed emergency follow-up if she were to need that, she said, ‘I wouldn’t go to an emergency room. I would be too scared to do that.’ My patients should not have to fear going to jail just because they received safe and essential health care.”
Joining Rodriguez Sanchez at Wednesday’s City Hall news conference were representatives from Equality Illinois, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Midwest Access Coalition and three council colleagues: Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).